Vanderbilt is hosting an NCAA Regional at Hawkins Field at full capacity.
Commodore fans surely couldn't ask for much more as the program welcomes Presbyterian at 6 p.m. on Friday night in its first game of the Nashville Regional in the NCAA Tournament.
Vanderbilt enters its 15th consecutive postseason after a somewhat disappointing showing in the SEC Tournament, falling to Ole Miss in the quarterfinal round after beating the Rebels two days prior.
Though coming up short of the tournament final may seem a bit uncharacteristic of a Commodores team that expects success, it is worth noting the SEC is beyond loaded with talent, including the No. 1 (Arkansas), 3 (Tennessee), 4 (Vanderbilt), 7 (Mississippi State), 12 (Ole Miss) and 15 (Florida) seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think the conference tournament is always a difficult thing," VU coach Tim Corbin said. "We take a lot of pride in that tournament. We enjoy being there, we enjoy winning games and I think for them it was disappointing. They’re a group that has a high care level for what they’re doing. I can just tell…they’ve got an edge to them and want to play better baseball going forward.”
Playing Ole Miss twice and eventual tournament champion Arkansas — the No. 1-ranked team in the nation — it's clear to see that the path to Omaha is not easy. Here are a few keys for Vanderbilt to succeed in their regional this weekend:
Pitch like the 4th overall seed
With Kumar Rocker expected to start in Vanderbilt's Friday night game against Presbyterian, Vandy's star pitcher will need to retool and refocus after allowing four hits in just 3.1 innings in his last game against Arkansas.
Rocker, who was named a first team All-American on Thursday, can set the tone early with his powerful fastball and sneaky slider. If the 6-foot-5 righty can shake off his lack of success from the SEC tourney, he should have an easier time finding success against lesser teams like Presbyterian.
“I think 100 percent it helps more and makes everyone want it more, especially me,” Rocker said on Thursday of his last outing. “(Because) at that point, it just wasn’t the outcome I personally wanted and it wasn’t the best for the team. I put them in a bad spot. And moving forward now. It just makes me want it a little bit more.”
Swing for the Fences
The 'Dores offense is potent, to say the least. With Enrique Bradfield Jr. and Dominic Keegan batting .365 and .369, respectively, Vanderbilt should have no problem getting on the scoreboard quickly.
Keegan's 11 home runs are the third-most on the team, and his play could prove to be crucial for Vandy's offensive production. VU could also get a boost from shortstop Carter Young, who could potentially return to the lineup after separating his shoulder a few weeks ago.
Play to the crowd
Vanderbilt has enjoyed the home-field advantage eight times during NCAA regionals, and a potential packed house for the first time in over a year could be just the thing to light a fire under the Commodores.
Sporting a 27-6 record at Hawkins Field, the Commodores don't lose often in front of their home crowd. Playing less talented teams like Presbyterian (22-21), Georgia Tech (29-23) and Indiana State (30-19), Vanderbilt stands a rather solid chance of making it out of its Region.
The full schedule for the Nashville Regional is listed below (all times CST):
Friday, June 4
G1: #2 Indiana State (30-19) vs. #3 Georgia Tech (29-23) – Noon, ESPN3
G2: #1 Vanderbilt (40-15) vs. #4 Presbyterian (22-21) – 6 p.m., SEC Network
Saturday, June 5
G3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 – Noon
G4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 – 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 6
G5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 – 2 p.m.
G6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5 – 8 p.m.
Monday, June 7 (if necessary)
G7: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5 – 6 p.m.